Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Nikon D7000, 80mm (35-80), 1/50, f/5.6, ISO 1600, adjusted

Here’s a treat: a creepy photo of a shrunken head. This objet d’art can be found at the Sternberg Museum in Hays, Kansas. The Blogger software distorts the colors a bit, but you can still see nice detail.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Light painting

Nikon D7000, 48mm (18-55), 5 sec., f/5.3, ISO 100

Last week we took a look at photos of moving light sources shot at slow shutter speeds. Today’s example is traditional “light painting,” using a light and a long exposure to draw something in the darkness.

This is impromptu stuff, shot with the flashlight feature on my iPhone. If this had been anything besides an experiment, I probably would have at least changed the backdrop to a black muslin to reduce the chances that it would show up in the shot (as it does a little here). I should also have removed the UV filter from the lens, as it’s likely to be the source of the faint phantom lines in the shot.

And if I was really getting fancy, I could have thrown in some rear curtain flash so that I would be visible in the shot. Or at least practiced a bit so I could legibly write the word “hello” (and do it backward so it would read correctly in the photo).

Picasso was much better at this.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Nikon D7000, 45mm (18-55), 3 sec., f/5.3, ISO 800, cropped

For our fun class session last week, we killed the lights, slowed down the shutter and photographed some moving light sources.

Our first subject was Awika, relative of Cosmojetz. I neglected to shoot video with the lights on, but the folks who created it have a good, quick clip. With the lights off, the only visible part of the scene were the sparks shooting out the back.

The first attempt (above) was a little over-exposed. To be sure, it was still a cool effect. The winding key and Awika’s feet are faintly visible. But I was curious to see what we’d get if we played with the exposure a little. First I dropped the ISO:

Nikon D7000, 45mm (18-55), 3 sec., f/5.3, ISO 100, cropped
And then I closed the aperture down a bit:

Nikon D7000, 45mm (18-55), 3 sec., f/11, ISO 100, cropped
Unfortunately, for that test I put the subject on the table upside down, so its body hid most of the sparks. One more try:

Nikon D7000, 45mm (18-55), 3 sec., f/11, ISO 100, cropped
Now the only visible parts of the subject are the narrow light trails made by the sparks. They look like fine hairs or dandelion fluff. Sometimes it’s nice to just play around and see what you get.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Nikon D7000, 44mm (18-55), 3 sec., f/29, ISO 100, on-camera filter, adjusted and cropped
Yesterday was the final in-class session of my fall Photography course. As usual, the last non-online meet was optional, and as nobody who showed up needed to get caught up on anything, we spent the time having some fun.

The main activity was a set of light painting experiments I’ll post next week. But after class I was still in a picture-taking mood so I decided to try a new filter I bought awhile back.

The main idea behind neutral density filters (other than protection for expensive lenses) is to reduce the amount of light getting into the camera without affecting the color or image quality. The new toy in this case was a Hoya 52mm 3-400 variable density filter.

Variable density filters can be adjusted to let in more or less light. The minimum setting for this one lets in 1/3 of the light that would otherwise get through the lens, the approximate equivalent of 1.5 stops. At the opposite end of the scale the filter screens down to 1/400 of the light, around nine stops.

The photo at the top of this post shows the filter near maximum strength. The ISO is down as far as it would go and the aperture closed up as tight as it would go. The result is not much light getting through and not much sensitivity to record what does get through. That’s how I got away with a three second exposure, which otherwise in bright sunlight would have over-exposed the shot so badly that I would have gotten nothing but an empty white frame.

At this speed the water (the only moving subject in the shot) turns into a hazy blur. Compare the long exposure to something closer to normal speeds:

Nikon D7000, 44mm (18-55), 1/125, f/5.6, ISO 100, on-camera filter, adjusted
Turning the filter down to its minimum allowed me to speed up the shutter and freeze the flowing water. Though the result is a great deal more “realistic” (i.e. more like what you’d perceive if you were actually looking at the scene), it’s arguably not as interesting to look at. The composition is  more chaotic, not as smooth as the longer exposure that records the general flow rather than individual drops.